89-year-old blind folk musician, Doc Watson, died Tuesday at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C..
Doc Watson was one of America’s most coveted 20th century musicians. Watson was well-known for his flatpicking finger technique that inspired many guitarists. Despite his music not hitting commercial success, his music was able to transcend mainstream music and gain eight Grammy Awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Grammy Award winning artist was blinded from the age of one. From an early age, Doc Watson showed a natural ability to play the banjo and harmonica, eventually favoring the guitar. Watson’s flatpicking style helped him transition other instrumental—fiddle and mandolin—sounds of Appalachia forbearers onto a younger audience.
Executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council, Wayne Martin remarked on Doc Watson’s music, “He was a great and groundbreaking guitarist but Doc was more than that…He made musical traditions of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains accessible to millions. His guitar was a powerful tool to get people’s attention, but I don’t think it was his greatest legacy.”
Watson got his start in 1953, playing in a country-western swing band as lead guitar. In the 60s, Ralph Rinzler discovered Watson, leading the guitarist to the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. Later that year, Watson was signed to a recording contract.
When Doc Watson started to gain more of a musical following in the 1960s when Folk music gained momentum amongst the hippie crowd. Watson’s son joined, Merle Watson, his father in a father-son act up until Merle’s untimely demise in 1985 when Merle died from a tragic farming accident.
According to Miller magazine, Watson stated his son was “the best friend I ever had in this world.” The tragic accident led the musician to quit music with Doc Watson stating, “The night before the funeral I had decided to quit, just giving up playing. Well that night I had this dream.”
Since Thursday, Watson has been recovering from colon surgery.
A life-size statue of Watson was erected in Boone, N.C. with a requested humble inscription, “Just One of the People.”